Book Review: The Jews of Sing Sing, by Ron Arons

Prepared by Gena Philibert-Ortega.

Do you have a skeleton in your genealogical closet? Don't assume because this book is about Jewish New York gangsters that the book has nothing to assist you in your own research. Finding out more about a criminal ancestor is the premise of this book, but in the task of researching his own ancestor, the author uncovers methodology, resources and history that will be beneficial to all family historians.

"Jews of Sing Sing" by genealogist Ron Arons shares the story of his own ancestor who spent time in Sing Sing, as well as other Jewish prisoners who also spent time in the famous New York prison. This book is the result of an interesting research project that Arons tackled. He took information he was able to gather about Jewish prisoners in Sing Sing and then conducted genealogical research on the prisoners including census data, World War I draft registrations, newspaper articles, court records, civil registrations and more.

A few thoughts struck me as I was reading this book. One is that people have been pretty much the same throughout history. They are motivated by the same things and they commit crimes as they always have. This is the story of dysfunctional families, youth offenders, illegal substances and gang activity. Our ancestors were not all angels. Arons' book shows the importance of uncovering our ancestor's lives whether they were angels or not.

The other thing that I have been contemplating centers on Arons' discussion about bigamy. He discusses the reasons that bigamy occurred in the early twentieth century, including the practice of common-law marriage, the inability of partners to prove that they were married, and the prohibitive cost of divorce. I tend to think that bigamy happened a lot more than we realize. Not only for the reasons Arons' cites but also because of the burden of proof you needed in a divorce, as well as how easy it was to just get up one day and walk away. I've seen this in some of the research I've personally conducted, which included clients who had fathers and grandfathers who just left one day and never returned. In one case the father only moved to the next county and in the other he came to America. But in both cases the men married other women without dissolving their first marriage. Sometimes there may not be divorce papers because the couple never officially separated. I'm glad Arons tackles this subject because it's an important one to consider as researchers look into their family's marriages and the possibility of divorce, desertion and/or bigamy.

Arons' book is available on his website and on Amazon.com as a hardback and eBook for the Kindle.

Ron Arons followed up his book "Jews of Sing Sing" with his resource book, "Wanted! U.S. Criminal Records." His website says that, "Wanted! U.S. Criminal Records," "is your one-stop reference for information sources about criminals from America's past. WANTED! lists archives, libraries, courts and online sites containing numerous sets of criminal information."

To learn more about Ron, his books and his presentations see his website. His website homepage also features a search engine for the Sing Sing Jewish Inmate Database.

Disclosure: I have known Ron for about 3 years. He did not give me a copy of either of his books, nor has he ever asked me to review them. Parts of this review originally appeared on my blog Gena's Genealogy.

Jews of Sing Sing, by Ron Arons. Barricade Books, 2008.

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